Good design, bad design: Who makes it that way?

Look around you. Anything you see that doesn’t occur in nature – someone (or many someones) designed it.


I’m paraphrasing Chip Kidd, from his book Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design. You might not have heard of Chip Kidd before, but you know his work even if you don’t know it’s his – he designed the book cover for Jurassic Park, which became so universally recognizable that they used it for the movie poster also. See just a few of his many other cover designs here.

Kidd is an experienced graphic designer. Go is pitched for ages ten and up, and it really does have appeal for all ages. Some of the material may be review (e.g. juxtaposition, primary vs. secondary colors, positive and negative space), but his examples are visually interesting – starting with the cover, a classic STOP sign design that reads GO. Read a short interview with Kidd here.

If nothing else, Kidd’s book will probably make you a little more observant and aware of all of the design you encounter in your daily life. Two other books that also do this are The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, and Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield.

designofeverydaythings2Norman’s book, as the title indicates, deals with things – doors, chairs, computers, cars, teapots – that people use in their daily lives. Why do we struggle so much with some of these things? It’s not because we’re incompetent idiots, says Norman (isn’t that nice to hear!) – it’s because the things themselves were poorly designed.

He writes, “Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself. Bad design, on the other hand, screams out its inadequacies, making itself very noticeable.” After reading this book, you’ll notice and appreciate good design much more, and you’ll have some ideas about how to fix bad designs. You can read the original 1988 edition with the 2002 introduction (it holds up remarkably well), or you can wait just a couple weeks for the revised and expanded edition, published this month.

justmytypeJust as we encounter lots of things every day, we also read lots of words in many different fonts, or typefaces. Even if you never crack a book open, you read more than you think, from traffic signs to your e-mail to billboard ads. Who invented those fonts? Who chose to use them? Do fonts “say” anything themselves, or do they just convey words?

Here’s a little experiment to answer that last question. Consider the following two openings to a letter, below.

Option #1:


Option #2:


I think I’d rather get the first letter, wouldn’t you? If the mysteries of type intrigue you, I highly recommend Simon Garfield’s book. Here’s just a taste of what it’s got to offer…


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5 Responses to Good design, bad design: Who makes it that way?

  1. Another great book for us non-professional designers is “The non-designer’s design book : design and typographic principles for the visual novice” by Robin Williams:

  2. Pingback: Don Norman’s Plea for Design In Business @DMI Boston | Open Innovation Central

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